(Adds details on rate decision, quote)
By Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA, March 20 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank voted unanimously to hold its lending rate on Friday for a seventh straight month as economic growth continued to show signs of easing while inflation picked up pace.
The seven-member central bank board, headed by Jose Dario Uribe, kept the lending rate at 4.5 percent, meeting predictions of a majority of analysts in a Reuters survey this week.
Slower-than-forecast economic expansion in the final quarter of last year and 2014 as a whole, and falling expectations for growth in 2015, were important to the board’s decision, the bank’s statement said.
Growth estimates for Latin America’s fourth-largest economy have been curbed by shrinking oil revenue and an increase in inflation, driven in part by a truckers’ strike that drove up food prices.
Oil revenue accounts for 20 percent of government income and is Colombia’s largest export and source of foreign exchange.
“Because the reduction in oil prices and national income is permanent in nature, domestic spending in the economy should be adjusted,” the board said.
“In late 2014 the Colombian economy slowed from a level close to full utilization of productive capacity. Slowdown is expected to continue in 2015.”
The bank predicts expansion of between 2 and 4 percent in 2015, with 3.6 percent as the most probable figure. Analysts see growth easing to as low as 3.3 percent this year and 2.6 percent next.
“The ample forecast range reflects the high degree of uncertainty,” the statement said.
A rise in inflation was also on the board’s radar, though the policymakers said that the uptick in consumer prices would be temporary.
Inflation, already up because of a 30 percent weakening in the peso, was pushed higher by an almost three-week truckers’ strike that caused a scarcity of some foodstuffs, spurring price hikes. The strike was called off on Thursday.
The peso closed on Friday at 2,574 to the dollar. Consumer prices ended 2014 at 3.66 percent and annual prices jumped to 4.36 percent in February.
Most analysts surveyed in a central bank poll published on Monday expect borrowing costs to be held for most of the year.
“Right now we prefer to maintain a stable outlook on monetary policy, assuming that the bank’s rhetoric will be enough to contain inflation expectations,” said Daniel Escobar, chief economic analyst at Global Securities. (Editing by Helen Murphy and Grant McCool)